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NEW YORK CITY-The worst may at last be over for the office sector. Local industry experts are reporting that the upward surge of availabilities has halted and, for the past few months, remained somewhat static. They’re long-awaited confidence is also fueled by an apparent increase in corporate users’ eyeing new space.

Of course, a few deals and a couple of conversations don’t a recovery make, and the people we spoke with for this story, while glad for the apparent halt in the downward spiral, all predict that we will be stuck bouncing along the bottom for at least a few months before what can be called a recovery is evident. And the key word there is “bounce,” indicating slight periods of both up-ness and down-ness with neither forecasting a major change in direction.

“We may have seen the bottom of the market,” Michael Fascitelli, president of Vornado Realty Trust, told a recent gathering of the Institute of Real Estate Management. But he stopped short of predicting cloudless skies ahead. “We’re still in for a tough couple of years. Until we get job growth back and a dwindling of sublease space, we won’t see rent rising.”

Other local players agree with Fascitelli on both points. “We won’t see rents rise Downtown for at least another 12 months,” says Bob Alexander, who was named president of Insignia/ESG just prior to the proposed merger between his company and CB Richard Ellis. Midtown could take the same timeframe because, while it is stabilizing, we’re not exactly sensing a huge demand that’s going to create an uptick in basic rentals.” Midtown demand, he explains, is “reasonable, but not super strong.”

But reasonable is enough to claim stability, Alexander explains. The fact is that while major deals with large numbers aren’t in strong evidence, the Midtown availability rate “has held steady at 12% for the past two months.”That’s still relatively high,” he admits, “but the fact is that the market has not continued to deteriorate. By contrast, last year, availabilities kept up as the months went by. It’s a positive sign that, as the war goes on, Midtown remains stable.” Alexander indicated–without divulging specifics–that the lease deals he’s current working on gives him reason to believe that the stabilization is more than just a short-term quirk.

In fact, according to Insignia’s most recent statistics, not only has availability held for the past two months, but since December, Midtown’s sublease space has been constant, even though that constant is 39% of all available space. The first quarter saw a total of 3.1 million sf of leasing activity–an 18% jump over the same period for the year before.

But then there’s that rental rate question. Insignia’s numbers show that they’re still sliding, with a 2% drop in March from $52.9 per foot.

“Stabilization is definitely a word that can be used to describe this market,” agrees Cushman & Wakefield’s Ken Krasnow. The senior managing director of the New York region says that over the past “60 days,” long enough to draw trend conclusions–”we’ve seen a stemming of the space coming back to the market, and over the past 30 days, “we’ve seen leasing velocity pick up.”But he too foresees a good couple of months of bumps and grinds, “which translates into some opportunistic situations for those companies that have demand,” he notes. He cites Health Insurance Plan of New York taking 500,000 sf at 55 Water St., which GlobeSt.com reported last week.

But these clearly will be the exception rather than the rule–at least for the time being. “We won’t see any appreciable increase this year,” he concludes, “but we are building toward a recovery.”

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